This dual Chinese and Western influences has made him sensitive to the scandal of the looting of the zodiac statues at the Imperial Palace in 1860. These elements of the fountain created for Qianlong from a design by Castiglione were a very rare example of art combining both cultures.
The controversy broke out in 2009 when Christie's offered at auction two animal heads from the fountain, rat and rabbit, then part of the Saint-Laurent-Bergé collection. The top biddings were made by a Chinese client who immediately refused to pay for these lots that the Chinese considered as an emblem. Pierre Bergé refused to negotiate and advanced arguments in favor of the respect for human rights in China.
In 2010, Ai Weiwei reinterprets the twelve animal heads, including the five that have not resurfaced, in two versions of different sizes. The figures mounted on a pedestal have become pleasant and smiling.
The installation of twelve gilded bronzes of the smaller version was published in 8 copies plus 4 artist's proofs. The group number 7 is estimated £ 2M for sale by Phillips in London on February 12, lot 8.
The rat and rabbit from Qianlong's fountain were eventually presented to China in 2013.